New Ofcom report reveals why children are spending more time online

By Internet Matters Team on

As children’s online time reaches an average of two hours per day, the Ofcom research – Revealing Reality Life on the small screen: What children are watching and why – explains reasons young people are drawn to video services like Netflix and YouTube.

Channel 5 report showcasing findings from Ofcom report with advice from our Ambassador Dr Linda Papadopoulos

YouTube top destination for children

YouTube remains children’s primary online destination, with 80% having used it. Nearly half (49%) of children, and a third (32%) of pre-schoolers aged 3-4, now watch subscription on-demand services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Now TV.

Among those who watch both YouTube and TV programmes on a TV set, nearly half of ‘tweens’ aged 8-11 and older children aged 12-15 (49%) prefer watching content on YouTube. However, more than a third get the same enjoyment from both viewing experiences.

What children shared about time online

To help understand why children are drawn towards online content, Ofcom carried out a study of 40 boys and girls, aged 4-16, from around the UK.

They offered in-depth data, seven-day diaries, and interviews on what they were watching and why. The study revealed powerful preferences for choice, control and a sense of community. It found that:

  • YouTube dominates, followed by Netflix. Children in the study overwhelmingly preferred watching YouTube (almost all children watched it daily) and Netflix, to any other platforms.
  • Live TV is parent-led and often reserved for family time. Most of the children in the study watched live, scheduled TV, though only a small number did so daily. Live TV viewing was often convened by parents, allowing the family to come together to watch soaps, quizzes or ‘appointment viewing’ such as Strictly Come Dancing or The X-Factor. Some children used live TV to fill time, often while they were doing something else such as eating dinner.
  • Choice and control. Many children said they valued YouTube and Netflix for offering instant control over what they are watching, and access to seemingly endless, personalised content. Children appreciated the platforms’ content recommendations and valued receiving notifications from the channels they subscribed to. Some preferred to watch content privately, whether this be on their personal devices or in their bedrooms.
  • Children turn to YouTube for three things. The study found most of the children’s viewing on YouTube fell into three broad categories:
  1. Hobbies and passions. Lots of children watched videos related to their offline interests – such as tutorials to further their passion for music or football. Some experienced similar gratification watching others participating in hands-on activities – such as arts and craft, or playing sport – to the extent that they said they no longer took part in these activities themselves in the ‘real world’.
  2. Vloggers and community. Many children watched ‘vloggers’ or YouTubers, often connecting with them through a shared passion such as sports or crafts, and enjoying becoming part of their ‘follower’ community. Lots of the children said they looked up to their favourite vloggers as role models or regarded them as a friend who could provide support or advice. This type of content also appealed to children’s natural curiosity about other people’s ‘normal’ lives; they felt the videos had an authenticity which made them easy to relate to.
  3. Sensory videos. Many children enjoyed videos which included ‘satisfying’ noises – such as other people making and playing with slime, or opening presents. Such videos are described as ‘Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response’ – due to their ability to generate a feeling of well-being and relaxation among some people.

More to explore

Get more insight from the Ofcom report and other online safety research:

Ofcom children and parents: media use and attitudes report 2018 

Ofcom children’s content review 

Latest online safety research